Book Review – The Violence of Hate

VofH I hve just finished reviewing Jack Levin’s The Violence of Hate – Confronting Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Bigotry (website) for its publisher. It is a short and interesting book that is probably more adapted to criminal justice courses than strictly sociology. It is well-written with a lot of examples and stories, and therefore highly readable for undergraduates. Anyone above that level will probably be frustrated.

Despite the inclusive title (but then why are racism and anti-semitism singled out?), the book deal mainly with racial and ethnic issues. Other forms of bigotry (as mentioned in the title) get a really short shrift. There is very little on misogyny or homophobia. Often, when these are mentioned, it is to indicate that racist and anti-semitic prejudices and social psychological mechanisms involved in such prejudices are similar when it comes to women and LGBTs. I understand that to deal thoroughly with gender issues in a broad would require a much longer book, but then, the title should reflect that and limit itself to "confronting racial and ethnic prejudice", that would be more accurate.

At the same time, when dealing with racial and ethnic prejudice, the book largely sticks to American issues. It is also, in my view, a major mistake. There are examples from other countries, of course, but that does not make a global perspective. A few comparisons here and there are just not enough. A quick look at conflicts around the world reveals a lot of ethnic dimensions whether as causes or consequences or both. Similarly, the book largely ignores the global rise of religious fundamentalism around the world and its role in ethnic prejudice, homophobia and misogyny not just in discourse but in practice.

Of course, if one teaches sociology or social psychology, there is little one will learn in this book, we are not the audience, so I won’t count reading yet again about Asch, Milgram and Zimbardo against the book. It is relevant. My issue is with the theory chapter. As a general rule, textbooks deal very very badly with theory. That section is often botched and it is no wonder that students do not get it.

Moreover, textbooks have a tendency to juxtapose one theory next to each other without really explaining their respective validity. Not all theories are equal. Some are better than others. And yet, we often get treated with things like "this is theory 1, it is largely macro, and critics say it ignores micro realities; then here is theory 2, it is micro and critics thinks it does not pay enough attention to macro factors." As a result, students do not get interested in theory, do not see why they should learn them or what a theory is for in the first place.

Unfortunately, this book is no exception in this pattern. Theories and perspectives that have been rather thoroughly debunked are still treated with kid gloves. The Bell Curve is garbage and one should not tapdance around that. The same goes with the Moynihan Report and other culture of poverty types of explanations. As with many textbooks, when I read this textbook, I really felt that the author did not enjoy doing it and did it only because it is a required chapter in all textbook. It comes across as a chore before going to the real stuff that the author is really interested in.

There is nothing really new or groundbreaking in this book. Personally, I get a lot more by reading David Neiwert’s blog on US hate groups. I do not necessarily fault the author for the lack of originality. Textbook publishers are afraid of innovation and they keep churning out textbooks that tend to be clones of each other. Part of me thinks that the textbook is obsolete when there are such great resources online. In this case, maybe, this book is the future, very short with just the basic background, and it would be up to the individual instructor to find additional resources elsewhere to make a course interesting.

This book is not for a Sociology of Violence course. It is not broad, global and thorough enough. It is good, though, as a introduction to explaining racial and ethnic prejudice.

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